Evanston author's book offers tips on how white people can better support Blacks
The killing of George Floyd was a catalyst for calls to end racism, racial injustice and police brutality, but it also stirred the conscience of a nation and prompted many white Americans to seek ways they could support Black communities.
That spurred Evanston author and retired Harvard University business professor Steven Rogers to pen an open letter to white people in America about how they can be better allies to Blacks.
Rogers' book, "A Letter to My White Friends and Colleagues," addresses the historical origins of the wealth gap between Blacks and whites and offers tips for how white people can help Black communities.
"It is targeted to a predominantly white audience, (but) it is something that is applicable to all audiences and all people," said Rogers, who taught entrepreneurial finance at Harvard Business School and ran the entrepreneurship department at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management for 17 years.
According to a 2019 Federal Reserve survey, the average net worth of white families is $188,200 compared to $24,100 for Black families.
In the book, Rogers recommends four concrete actions white people can take to help bridge that wealth gap: deposit money in Black-owned banks, donate to historically Black colleges and universities, spend money at Black-owned businesses, and support the idea of reparations for the historical injustice of slavery.
He began writing it shortly after Floyd's murder on May 25, 2020, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer now convicted in the killing. The book has received good reviews and it is a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon.
"A lot of Black people were getting the question (from) white friends, 'what can I do to help,'" Rogers said. "I wanted to help white people understand how the Black-white racial issue was created in America. Over 50% of the race problems between Blacks and whites have to do with wealth disparity. All of the protests and the unrest (of last summer) was just simply symptoms of the problem of wealth disparity."
That disparity is the result of more than two centuries of government-subsidized wealth creation for whites at the expense of Blacks, including 246 years of state-sanctioned slavery, followed by 100 more years of laws targeting Blacks, including vagrancy, redlining and sundown codes, Rogers said. For example, the Federal Housing Authority created a mortgage guarantee program after World War II aimed at fostering an American middle class. That program explicitly excluded "Negroes" since the government would not back mortgage loans for Black families, thus creating redlining districts, Rogers said.
Rogers said such policies made it impossible for Blacks to accumulate and pass on generational wealth. He calls on white people who care about righting such injustice to deposit at least 9.29% of their annual savings in a Black-owned bank -- that percentage represents the time former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on Floyd's neck.
"Seventy percent of mortgages of Black-owned banks go to Black people," Rogers said. "Less than 1% of mortgages issued by white-owned banks go to Black people."
He also urged people to allocate 9.29% of their annual spending budget to Black-owned businesses -- the largest private employers of Black people nationwide -- and give at least 9.29% of their annual charitable donations to the nation's 101 historically Black colleges and universities.
"HBCUs have 300,000 students. They are an extraordinarily important part of the Black community," Rogers said. "They have produced today over 80% of all Black judges, 50% of Black lawyers, 50% of Black doctors, and 40% of Black engineers."
As for the U.S. government paying reparations to the descendants of enslaved Black people, there are international and national precedents for it, Rogers said.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act to compensate more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent who were imprisoned in internment camps during World War II. The law provided for a formal apology and $20,000 in compensation to each surviving victim of persecution. "Black people have never gotten anything for 246 years of uncompensated labor," Rogers said. "Our socioeconomic circumstances are not because we are lazy (or) we don't work hard. This was done intentionally to us. We cannot save ourselves or work ourselves out of this."